The Metropolitan Water District has declared a drought emergency for all of Southern California after officials announced that conditions on the Colorado River, the Southland’s primary water supply, are dire and getting worse.  

Mandatory water restrictions could be implemented as early as next year for an estimated 19 million residents.  

“The western North America is in a drought we haven’t seen in 1,200 years. So, it’s not overstating things to say that we’re in a drought of biblical proportions,” said Brad Coffey, a water resource manager with MWD.  

Coffey, who represents the nation’s largest water supplier, said that if residents don’t start conserving water now, all of Southern California could experience difficult days this coming spring and summer.  

Despite the recent rain and snow, experts say the past three years have been the driest in California history, leaving reservoirs critically low as the state enters its fourth year of drought.  

“Think of it as a deficit to a bank account,” Coffey told KTLA’s John Fenoglio. “We’ve spent down our bank account for the past three years, and though we’ve got a little coming in now, we’ve still got a long way to go to make up for what’s happened over the last three years.”  

MWD supplies water to 26 agencies that will deliver it to major population centers like Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.  

The emergency declaration calls on all MWD’s member agencies to immediately reduce imported supplies and for the public to do their part by limiting outdoor irrigation to one day a week for no more than 10 minutes while using water-efficient appliances.  

Burbank resident Brad Worsley says he understands the problem.  

“The Colorado River supply is the lowest it’s been in years, which is our main water supply. So, we just all have to do our part,” he said.  

MWD gets about half its water supply for Southern California from the Colorado River and the Northern Sierra.  

Water use among communities varies, with some using very little imported water and others relying almost entirely on it. The last several years, though, have decimated those water sources.

“They look really low. They’re at the lowest levels since the lakes began filling. They’re only about 25 or 27 percent full,” Coffey told KTLA.  

Climate change, according to the water resource manager, has only made things worse.  

“Climate change is a factor by thinking about two things. One, less snow, and two, more fires,” Coffey said. “Both of those things affect the watersheds and what we’ve seen is much lower snowpack. It disappears more easily and is taken up by the thirsty soils and plants. And what we’ve seen is a reduction in the yield in our snowpack over the past several years. That’s one of the most significant things we see in climate change.”  

If the drought persists, the Metropolitan Water District said it may begin allocating water supplies to member agencies by April.